My parents divorced when I was 5 years old. I really don’t have many memories of living with both of them. Just some hazy pictures that might not even so much be actual memories as remnants of stories or actual pictures I’ve seen from my earliest years. One very real memory I do have moving from Indiana to California via Amtrak train. It was quite an adventure, which for the most part I enjoyed. I do remember getting some sort of turkey with brown gravy dinner that I thought was disgusting, but other than that, I loved our tiny little sleeper car (which did not seem tiny to me) and watching the country fly by before my eyes.
This trip, while exciting, meant starting a new life in California with my mom, step-dad and little brother. And that meant leaving the rest of my family, including my dad, behind. That part was beyond awful. I spent 46 weeks out of most years with my mom in Southern California, but for 6 glorious weeks every summer, I got to come back home and be with my family.
Those 6 months were, without a doubt, the most exciting of the year. Since my dad got me for such a short amount of time, he made sure not to waste a single second of it. It was 6 weeks spent in an almost non-step quest for fun. Sure, my dad had to work during that time, but he was a paramedic and usually worked a 24 hour shift followed by 2 full days off. That meant that of the 6 weeks I came to visit, he only had to work about 2 of the weeks, plus, he always took off vacation time, so really he only worked a handful of days during my visit.
While we did have “normal” days where we stayed at home, watched TV, played in the yard or ran errands, we had just as many days where we went to parks–both the natural and themed variety. Despite the fact that back in SoCal, I had Disneyland pretty much in my backyard, I LOVED visiting theme parks with my dad and anyone else in the family who wanted to tag along, which usually meant my aunt and grandma.
My favorite destination was definitely Six Flags Great America, just outside of Chicago. Not only was it a day filled with delicious (and completely unhealthy) snacks, rides and tons of souvenir stuffed animals, shirts and knick-knacks, but it also meant a long drive with my family where my dad would tell stories, we’d sing songs and he’d let me hold the money for the toll roads. It was heaven.
As much as I loved Great America, since it was a bit of a drive, we usually only went once each summer. However, that hardly meant only one day of thrill rides for me. Not too far away from my dad’s house there were a couple small, locally owned amusement parks. My favorite was the Enchanted Forrest, located in Porter, Indiana. My aunt and I used to ride the Mad Mouse roller coaster until I had screamed myself hoarse and was ready to puke. As much as the crazy jerks terrified me, I loved it. I also was crazy over the Tilt-a-Whirl. And don’t even get me started on the mini-train that we could ride all around the park.
The Enchanted Forrest actually hosted corporate type events all the time. I remember one time the steel mill my grandpa worked at rented it for the day and we got to go along. Not only did we get to ride all of the rides, but there was a huge company picnic. Another year, my dad’s fire department had an event there and while we didn’t quite have the whole place to ourselves, I felt so important being there with all of the firefighters. The Enchanted Forrest was the first place where I drove a go-kart. It was also where I began my love affair with skee-ball. Since it was located right next to the Indiana Dunes, even when we weren’t going to spend the day there, we drove by it quite often on our way to play at the actual Dunes.
Sadly, it closed in 1991. I had just started high school and was not old enough to drive there to hang out with my friends, but too old to ask my parents to go with me. I did, however, watch as it transitioned into an entirely new theme park: Splash Down Dunes Water Park. I went off to college before it was actually finished, so I never went there. It was odd to watch one of my favorite childhood playgrounds become something so very different.
I only came home for college one summer. Once I returned for the start of my sophomore year, I never lived near the Dunes again. I didn’t even realize that SDD closed in 2009 and then was reopened as Seven Peaks Water Park. I know my aunt still went there with her kids, but out of habit she still called it Dunes water park. Apparently as of June of this year, even it has closed down due to guests getting chemical burns from the water. There are currently no plans to reopen it.
It’s odd to think that a place that has brought so much fun to so many people for almost 60 years is closed. Even though I’m not a huge fan of water parks, I hope that they are able to fix the problem and that it does reopen. Families need places like The Enchanted Forrest and Splash Down Dunes and Seven Peaks Water Park to build those memories.